Why Sales Success is like High School

In my sales training sessions with originators, it is clear that many of our industry’s producers are having a difficult time selling in today’s hyperconnected world. Likewise, management teams are facing similar issues. The big question is how to sell and market products and services when unlimited information, short attention spans and intense competition have forever changed the way business is conducted.

The problem is that many companies are still using marketing models that are simply outdated. These older demographically based models segment customers by gender, race, income and geographic location. This strategy no longer works in predicting whether a consumer will choose you as their lender as it once did when choices were limited. So, how should companies adjust their marketing efforts to win the business?

In Nicholas Webb’s great book, “What Customers Crave,” he contends that the old marketing systems are too often inward-focused. An inward-focused sales approach is about what works for the company and not the customer. When customers had fewer options, companies used sales processes that were set in concrete and could not be changed. A simple example is having a cable box installed. In previous years, customers were told what time the company would be there and too bad if you worked and couldn’t leave your job. Obviously, that dynamic has changed.

Webb observes that today, “customers can buy anything, anywhere, anytime. Perhaps more important, they can buy, sell, praise or condemn with a few flicks of the thumb.” The power has definitely shifted to the customer. To thrive in this environment, Webb states that companies must become “disruptive innovators and provide customer experiences that are so remarkable that they lead to our clients doing much of the marketing for us.\”

What does it take for a company or originator to be customer-focused? It means understanding what your customers love and what they hate. According to Webb, this requires understanding the customer’s perspective; implementing exceptional customer touchpoints throughout the sales process; and providing  stellar customer service online and off. This raises the bar for companies and their sales teams who must develop a true partnership with customers if they want to capture repeat and referral business.

This approach challenges all parts of a business — from the front line to the back office — to deliver great customer service throughout the sales process and not just at one or two touchpoints. A subpar performance at any stage of the game can have catastrophic results. One look at Temkin Experience Ratings and you can see the long list of companies with poor customer service such as AT&T, Motel 6 and Chrysler who cut back on their delivery of services thinking that customers wouldn’t notice.

For companies and sales organizations, Webb offers five tips to consistently exceed customer expectations:

  1. Hire great people. Not surprisingly, the best companies spend an inordinate amount of time hiring the best people. Others do not and it shows in their lack of referral business.
  2. Be the best too. Bad leaders and bad organizations turn over quality people including their customers. A poor company culture prompts good employees to leave.
  3. Encourage courage. Having a smart company requires a culture to take risks and for managers to listen to what their front line personnel are saying. Too often, this group is ignored to the company’s detriment.
  4. Know what your customers crave. Exceptional customer experience is tied to understanding what a customer loves and hates. To truly understand, sales professionals people must truly listen to their customers.
  5. Complete the journey. It is critical that all customer touchpoints are exceptional. One or two is not enough.

In my opinion, business success is a lot like high school: People align with certain interests (the jocks sit at one table and the geeks sit at another for a reason) and they have loves and hates that sales professionals must recognize in order to achieve sustainable success.

It is time to design an exceptional customer experience based on what we learned in high school.